Genealogy society finds remnants of cemetery
Members of the Aiken Barnwell Genealogy Society have found a few remnants of local history tucked away behind trees and brush in a forgotten corner of Aiken County property.Cynthia Hardy, editor of the society's journal, has been in search of general information on the Aiken County Home - also known during its existence from the late 1800s to 1937 as the Aiken Poor Home or the Alms House - since she joined the society in 2003.Hardy began to suspect the Poor Home must have had cemetery grounds - one for black residents, another for white - after she began transcribing the facility's records in 2004, which she found in the South Carolina Archives.With the assistance of Pope Cook, whose father was the Poor Home's last superintendent and who spent time there as a child, Hardy and the society members have located a few timeworn scraps of the Poor Home's cemetery for white residents in a wooded area behind the Aiken SPCA, the Aiken County Animal Shelter and the Doris Gravat Detention Center on Wire Road. The find includes one intact headstone, a wrought-iron floral bouquet holder, a wooden plaque worn smooth and free of carvings by time and weather, a glass ornament they believe to be part of a grave marker, a few more unreadable stones and depressions in the ground that may be indicative of burial sites."These records are not online; you have to go to the original documents, and they're not complete. I've heard that in the Depression they used some (records) as fuel for heating fires," Hardy said. "The number of deaths in the records led me to believe there had to be several graves in the area; many of the death certificates listed the Poor Home as the place of burial. We always knew it must be near the detention center, but that was as close as we could get."Hardy, the society's cemetery coordinator Cyril Johnson and member James Hall made their first trip to the right spot on Jan. 25 with directions from Cook."The first thing I saw was two cedar trees, which are often found in old cemeteries. Then I saw the flower holder marker, and then we found the one tombstone. Then we started finding more bits," Johnson said.The standing tombstone marks the grave of Mary D. Wheeler and reads: "Mary D. Wheeler/wife of/James C. Wheeler/Born April 6, 1848/Died Oct. 21, 1928/Gone to rest/Not lost/Gone before/Where we will/Meet to part/No more."Hardy found Mary Wheeler's death certificate and James Wheeler's obituary - he died in 1941 at the age of 105 - and through those records identified this burial ground as the whites-only section of the cemetery. Johnson said black residents of the Poor Home were buried in unmarked graves, so, while they can guess approximately where that section might be, they cannot say for certain."Mr. Wheeler was a Civil War veteran, so we're going to try to get a Civil War marker placed here," Johnson said.The Poor Home was established in 1872 on 250 acres of land on the west side of Two Notch Road. The facility had a "long house" with rooms for eight to 10 people, five duplex cottages with two occupants each, a laundry house, a mill-house, other outbuildings and a small farm that grew produce for the chain gang and the Poor Home residents.Provisions for the poor came under the federal government's jurisdiction in 1937, and the Poor Home was closed down around the end of World War II.The burial ground is on land owned by Aiken County. While investigating the site, the members of the Genealogical Society were visited by Director of Public Works John Dyches, and they made him aware of their find.The future of the Poor Home cemetery is unknown at this point."We'd like to clean it out and put some markers up," said Hardy.Hardy has listed the site on www.findagrave.com and is actively seeking information about those who may be interred there.Anyone with information about the Poor Home or its cemeteries can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University. She is a native of Augusta, Ga., and was a reporter for the North Augusta Star prior to joining the staff of the Aiken Standard. Contact Suzanne Stone at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter at #SuzanneRStone and on Facebook at Suzanne Stone | Aiken Standard.